It is a common place for journalists and analysts to say that Egypt, and especially its politics, is unpredictable. There are several reasons for this situation, but I think that the main one is the secretism that surrounds the so-called “Egyptian transition”.
To some extent, this is normal. To be successful, all political agreements on sensitive issues require secret negotiations. At least at its initial phase. However, the highly confrontational and contentious nature of the Egyptian transition has made this situation permanent. The transition seems open-ended, as it secret deals and conspiracy theories also do.
Since the fall of Mubarak (or maybe even before it), Egyptian politics has become like an iceberg: citizens can only see a small part of if, the largest and its most crucial part remains under the water. Or as the Egyptians say “tajta al-tarablis” (under the table).
For this reason, to make sense of the political dynamics in the country is almost an exercise of deciphering a hieroglyphic. We can only try to guess what happens in closed-room negotiations between political actors based on public their statements and leaks. The problem, of course, is that many them may not be true, but just a tool in their poker game.
Let’s take for example the widespread rumours that the days before the official announcement of the results of the presidential elections that hinted to a victory of the former army official Ahmed Shafiq over Mohamed Morsy, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood. Was that a strategy of psychological war by the military Junta (or SCAF) to press the Brotherhood to make concessions in exchange for recognizing their victory? Was this the result of some disagreements within the SCAF? Or maybe a strategy from old regime networks to press the SCAF to manipulate the elections in favour of Shafiq?
At this point, it is impossible to know. I think that even the main political actors that take part in this game don’t have the whole picture. Probably, it could not be otherwise given secrecy that surrounds the SCAF and the Brotherhood, the two strongest players. An El Baradei adviser told me a few months ago that the SCAF was like the black box of an airplane. A representative would ask for a meeting to exchange views, and agree on a certain course of action. Later on, the SCAF would do the opposite to what he had said. Was the representative lying? Was his opinion overrun? How decisions are taken within the SCAF? And within the Brotherhood?
Hopefully, after a few years, a good historian will be able to interview at length all the main players and elaborate a complete account of the Egyptian transition by collecting the small pieces of truth that all of them hold. Until then, let us keep guessing with a grain of humility.